Recently, I sat down with Bob Thompson, director of Baptist Home Missions, a small independent Baptist mission board devoted to church planting in North America. This aspect of mission work is often overlooked by the attention given to foreign missions, but it is vital for the church to replicate itself both on the home and foreign fields. In the interview that follows, Bob shares with us his burden for building churches in North America.
In Part One, Bob introduced us to himself and his board and we discussed some general trends in mission work and missionary support in the current climate.
P&D: Do other boards exist that are similar to Baptist Home Missions?
BT: There are! In fact, that was one of the questions that came to me when I was asked to come as General Director. Why Baptist Home Missions? What makes you distinct and different so that you would want to exist when it’s not necessary for you to exist, there’s so many others? Well it’s not that there are so many others, but I can think right off hand of at least six other good mission agencies that are doing church planting in the United States. Some of them have niches of regional works that they are doing. Others have particular constituencies of people that will support them that will allow them to do some things that others do not. But, really, it’s amazing how each one of us is working in a different way to accomplish the work that needs to be done. Some of them are both home and foreign missions, some are just home missions, but they are all doing the work that has to be done.
P&D: How do you go about recruiting candidates?
BT: Well, let me make just one statement as a clarification. We do not recruit, we enlist. Why do I say that? Well, it’s God who calls them, I don’t want to recruit and have someone say, ‘Well, you’re the one who called me into this.’ No, God calls you into the ministry, we just simply bring you along with us so we can serve together.
Having said that, we’re going around to good Bible colleges and presenting the needs of the ministry there, we are presenting it in churches and letting churches know, contacting pastors who may have young men who have an interest in that area, that we can help encourage in that way. We’re just continually presenting the needs that are out there and constantly praying that God will raise up the men that we need to have.
P&D: Do you think that there is a lack of a ‘pioneer spirit’ among young preachers today?
BT: Everything is laid out today like ‘this is how it’s done, I just get on board and move forward.’ To go into a place and start from scratch is a hard thing for people to understand, it’s not done that much. It’s something that has to be shown, interest has to be created, challenge has to be presented, but I believe there are people who are willing to do that. There are questions of, ‘All right, you’re going to the inner city, that’s not safe, I’ve got to take care of my family.’ Well, there is no safer place than being in the center of God’s will if that’s where he wants you, he’ll take care of you.
Our missionaries who live in some of those areas have never had a problem. For us, we lived in Brazil. When we went, it wasn’t a question of ‘if you’ll be robbed’ but ‘when.’ We knew it was coming. But there are only three occasions that come to our mind, there was no harm that came to us at any time. And one of them was at gun-point. But the things that we lost were minimal, most of them were recovered within an hour and they were able to catch the robbers. God took care of us, we had nothing to worry about. If you don’t know that things can happen in that way, you are scared. How are we going to make it? But you learn that trusting God, that God will take care of it, and even if God permits something to happen, he can use that and will use that for the furtherance of the gospel and to bring glory unto Himself.
P&D: Do your missionaries raise full support or do they do tent-making on the side?
BT: We are being as creative as we can with support because support is a big challenge today. It’s a lot of money to have to go out and start a church, so how do we do that? Well, we set a base amount that we believe a missionary needs to have. It’s not a large amount, it’s minimal at best. We don’t require the missionary to raise full support, especially if there is an opportunity, or where it would be advantageous, for him to be bi-vocational for a time. He could work a part-time job and pastor a church. It may be that his wife is able to work, and through her work help support the ministry, so that he is able to be in the ministry full time. It may be that as the church grows, and this would be our hope, that the church would begin to support that missionary as well. If that man is going to stay as their pastor, they need to be taking on his support and taking care of him. If they’re not going to see him as their pastor and somebody else is going to come in, they need to be already setting aside those funds so that they can be ready to pay a pastor. So… those are all different things to look at.
There was a time in America when a pastor worked another job besides pastoring a church because the finances were not there to take care of him fully. I think that in some areas we may be going back to those kind of days. It’s not a bad thing. Yes, we’re told in Scripture that a man who preaches the Word of God should live by the Word of God, but God can also provide through open doors of ministry opportunity in a secular job. One of our missionaries works as a chaplain at a cancer center and it opens up doors of opportunity for him there for things that cost a lot of extra money, like insurance. He works there partly for his salary but it’s more for the benefits that he has to have. Besides that, it opens the door for ministry by serving as a chaplain. We’ve got another man who for a while served as a bus driver for the school district. He got to meet families in the area because he was on the bus every day. It allowed him still time to pastor adequately. So there are opportunities that way. We just seek to see what the Lord has for that particular person and that particular place.
P&D: One of the things I’ve noticed in Canada is that in some situations it seems that missionary church-planted churches have become somewhat dependent on outside support, so how do we overcome that mindset?
BT: That’s not a problem in just Canada, it’s in the United States, and it’s even worse in some places overseas. It’s something that’s got to be taught from the beginning, that this is your church, this is your work that you have to support and you have to see what’s going to be accomplished. We’re going into the Dominican Republic right now. One of the things we want to do from the beginning is to see those churches begin to see, “We need a Bible college to train our men, but we need to support that Bible college. We don’t need that support to be coming from some other places.
You plant those seeds of thought and then when the need comes up, the first place you turn is to those people. When we worked with Bibles International, we had a slogan or phrase that we used that helped us set the parameters up on how to handle that. “Our help begins where your ability ends.” In other words, we want you to do everything you can do, and then we’ll see what we can do to help from outside, but we start with you. This is your work, this is your ministry, this is your area of responsibility. We can get others to help, but we’ve got to start to say you’ve done everything you can do, now let’s see what else we can do.
P&D: What challenges do you face among existing churches for the work of Baptist Home Missions?
BT: Among existing churches — for some — it’s helping them to understand the need for more churches here in the United States. You can go to some cities and there are churches on every street corner. “Why do we need more churches? We don’t!” Well, you need to understand, not every city is like your city. There are a lot of other cities that need works. There is a city not far from where we are right now, Charlotte, North Carolina. Within the city limits there are 800,000 people. And within the city limits, seven fundamental churches to reach 800,000 people. There are a lot of other churches, but they don’t preach the gospel. We need to see the need. We need more churches in cities like that. We’ve got a lot of churches around the periphery, but we don’t have them in the cities themselves. So they need to see what the need is.
Secondly, they need to prioritize their finances. What do we need to do with our finances? Yes, a church needs to take care of their own local ministry, but sometimes they are so taken up with their own ministry they lose the focus of others around them and the need to reach out. So they need to prioritize their finances in that respect.
And then they need to get a burden for souls, there are people that need to be reached for the gospel. They need to realize that a lot of people are going to go to hell simply because somebody isn’t telling them about the Lord Jesus Christ.
To be continued…
Don Johnson is the pastor of Grace Baptist Church of Victoria, Victoria, BC, Canada.